We all know that there are a number of preconceptions about disability. One of the biggest is around dating – some people still don’t believe that disabled people date, have relationships and, yes, have sex! For a different perspective on the topic, we’re sharing a blog post from Becky, who isn’t disabled herself but is dating wheelchair-user Dan. Read on to find out how she deals with misconceptions about disability, and her answers to people’s common questions.
Hi! I’m Becky. I’m a pretty average 23-year-old from the West Midlands. I’ve been a registered veterinary nurse for the last four years and have my own furry clan of horses, a dog and a cat. I’m happiest when I’m outdoors with my animals or exploring with Dan and my friends.
Dan (my better half, significant other, partner in crime….) is 28 and works as a data analyst. He’s a big music fan so loves going to gigs. Like me, he’s always busy and enjoys it being that way.
Dan has Friedreich’s Ataxia, which is a rare genetic, degenerative disease that causes coordination problems, a loss of sensation in the arms and legs, and impaired speech. As a result of this, Dan is a wheelchair user.
From the moment that Dan and I started dating, people have asked me what it’s like to date someone who has a disability. I use my blog, Head over Wheels, to answer their questions, and to share our reviews and stories about places we visit and their accessibility.
Here’s my post on some of the big questions people have…
“What’s it like dating someone in a wheelchair?”
This isn’t hugely different from asking: “What’s it like dating someone called Dan?” The obvious answer is, well, no two men called Dan are the same. Everyone is different.
Ok, so accessibility needs to be considered when dating any wheelchair user. But even that aspect differs from person to person. The rest is just like going out with someone who doesn’t have a disability; first date nerves, worries about awkward silences, excitement if you get on, the fluttery chest if you fancy them.
According to the charity Scope, two-thirds of Brits say they feel awkward around disability, and some people feel so awkward that they avoid disabled people altogether. That really needs to change!
When I was younger, my grandparents worked at a day centre for people with disabilities and learning difficulties. I occasionally spent time with them there and went to a few of their summer fetes and fundraising events.
I think that that helped to shape my attitude towards disability from a young age. I’m also used to working closely with people who have disabilities as I have treated several guide dogs and assistance dogs in my job as a registered veterinary nurse.
As I was getting ready for my first date with Dan, I’ll admit, I did start to feel anxious. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about his disability at all. I wasn’t sure whether to ask him more about his ataxia, or not to approach it at all. I didn’t want to unintentionally say or do the wrong thing.
But honestly, within the first 10 minutes of our date, all my worries had dissolved. I got completely wrapped up in the easy conversation and Dan’s charm – the wheelchair and his disability became insignificant.
“How much do you have to help him? Do you have to push his wheelchair?”
I didn’t have to help Dan at all on our first date. He suggested where we should meet, which meant that he knew what the access there was like. Dan put it bluntly on his dating profile bio: “I’m not looking for a carer, I have my independence.” He drives, has his own place, and works full time.
For our first date, we met at the café and bar at Ikon Gallery in Birmingham. When I arrived, Dan asked what I wanted to drink, then said he’d go in to get it for me. I sat at the table outside wondering how he was going to manage to carry it over. A few minutes later he came back out with a waitress who was carrying my drink.
Knowing that he couldn’t carry it back himself, he easily could’ve sent me to get my own drink, but he didn’t. It might seem like a trivial thing for me to mention, but I think it shows what sort of attitude Dan has.
There are some things that I have to help him with, but he also has to help me out too (like by reaching stuff from the top shelves in the kitchen cupboards! Yes, he can stand…!).
“Will you still be able to experience dating ‘normally’ and fully? Will you miss out or have to make any sacrifices if you’re dating someone with a disability?”
Our first date lasted four and a half hours! Considering that I’ve had more than one first date that didn’t even last an hour, I think that speaks volumes. I’d never clicked so well with someone the first time I’d met them.
After a drink at the café and having a looked around the Ikon Gallery, we went for a drink at a bar in Brindley Place. Even after that, we hadn’t had enough, so we went for dinner.
When I met Dan I was getting my life back after being in an abusive relationship. I was enjoying dating and meeting new people. For a few years, I’d missed out on a lot due to being in a toxic relationship and struggling with anxiety. People close to me just wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss out on anything else, hence this question.
A few months after the end of that relationship, I developed a new-found zest for life. I decided that whenever and wherever possible, I was only going to spend time with people whose company I genuinely enjoyed. I realised I had a lot of making up to do, places I wanted to visit and things I wanted to see.
Dan is honestly the funniest, most determined, and kindest person I’ve met. Within the first couple of months of dating, I’d been out-and-about and had more fun and laughter than I’d had in a really long time. It was quite the opposite of having to ‘make any sacrifices’. He’s brought so much to my life. Ew, gushy.
For just one example of what we’ve been up to so far, you can read my Zip World post.
“Can you have sex?”
I spent a long time pondering over whether or not to include this in my blog. Initially, I was uncomfortable with putting the blog online at all. So I’m sure you can imagine how I felt about answering this question!
But, the purpose of my blog is to be open and honest, and to address any stigmas. Plus, people really do seem intrigued. So much so that Dan felt the need to mention it in his dating profile – at the end of his bio, he simply put: “And it works…”
So… the answer is yes, we can. And we do.
Dan was the first one to broach the subject when we started dating. He anxiously told me his concerns, and I told him mine. Of course, it’s a bit of an awkward and embarrassing conversation to have when you’re in the early stages of dating. But we both had ‘baggage’ so it was important that we talked about it.
At the time, I was having treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and was dubious about opening up to Dan. When you’ve been in an abusive relationship, or if you have a disability, sex can be a much bigger deal than it is for a lot of people.
However, there was no pressure from either side, and luckily we were both on the same page. We agreed that we just had to figure out what works for us both. It wasn’t easy at the beginning, but sex wasn’t a deal breaker for us. Controversial? But maybe more common than you might think.
There’s a huge list of physical and psychological reasons why sex might be either a problem or just not be that important to someone. We’re all different, and having a disability definitely doesn’t automatically mean that someone doesn’t have a sex life (I can guarantee!). Likewise, being ‘able-bodied’ doesn’t mean your sex life should be amazing and massively active.
Dan and I have found our patience and honesty with each other to be totally worthwhile. So, to summarise, dating someone with a disability doesn’t mean that I’m missing out on anything at all. In Dan, I’ve gained my other half and my best friend.
Oh, also, his wheelchair and lap provide a pretty useful portable seat for when I’m waiting in queues. And I mustn’t forget the parking spaces.
In an attempt to help #EndTheAwkward, I’m happy to answer any other burning questions you might have! Just leave them in the comments section of this article.
By Becky – read more of Becky’s posts on her blog Head over Wheels.